Sushi, pasta and Paxo stuffing: what Britain’s top chefs eat at Christmas

By Leah Harper

Rick Stein, chef and founder of Rick Stein restaurants, nationwide
I love it at Christmas, when there are festive lights all around the harbour and the pubs are at their cosiest. This year, I’m spending it at my cottage in Padstow. I’ll be cooking goose with sage and onion stuffing, potatoes roasted in goose fat with artichokes and parsnips and a melange of vegetables – broccoli, peas, broad beans and carrots – all cut small and braised in butter and tarragon. It’s not traditional but I can’t have Christmas at my place without two or three dozen native oysters from the river Fal to start, and Cornish blue cheese instead of stilton with the port.

Pasta and mustard fruits

Angela Hartnett, chef patron at Murano and Cafe Murano, London, and Cucina Angelina, Courchevel, France
This Christmas, we’ll be eating pasta, followed by roast turkey (although last year we opted for roast capon – a tip from Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli, whose grandfather used to make it). My family’s signature dish is a brilliant stuffing made from wilted spinach, ricotta and a touch of parmesan, rolled into a ballotine log. You can either roast it in foil or you can stuff it in the end of a turkey. For me, it all tastes better the next day. I love leftovers such as cold turkey with cranberries and Italian chutneys – in particular mustard fruits, which are made with crystallised fruits preserved in syrup and flavoured with mustard-seed oil.

Sushi and a black forest gateau

Roll of the diced ... sushi under construction.
Roll of the diced ... sushi under construction. Photograph: Enrique Díaz/7cero/Getty Images

Marcus Wareing, chef patron and owner of Marcus and The Gilbert Scott, London, and judge on MasterChef: The Professionals
I usually go into my restaurants on Christmas Day. We used to do traditional Christmas dinners, but found that customers wanted alternatives to turkey: goose, beef and lamb. But at home we always have a turkey. I’m a big fan. I take off the legs and cook them separately. I’ll also make sushi with my daughter and a black forest gateau for Boxing Day. If you want to enjoy the day, you need to be prepared when it comes to the food but people do tend to over-shop at Christmas, which I always try to suppress. As a chef, I find it bizarre.

Yorkshire puddings and gravy

fresh baked yorkshire puddingsome fresh baked yorkshire pudding, british food, with gravey on a plate
Just for starters ... Yorkshire pudding. Photograph: Szakaly/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Shuko Oda, co-founder and head chef at Koya, London
I don’t do Christmas dinner in my house as it’s my day off from the kitchen. My husband and his brother do a traditional turkey with all the trimmings, and always start off with Yorkshire puddings and gravy (he’s a northerner!). Instead, I look after New Year’s Eve, which is quite a big deal in Japan. I prepare a traditional Japanese New Year’s feast of osechi: pickles and preserves that represent health and fortune.

Cured fish and eggs

Marianna Leivaditaki, head chef at Morito, London
My partner and I grew up in Crete, so we tend to do things a little differently in our house. We always start the day with cured fish and eggs (a staple around the festive season in Crete) – often ouzo-cured salmon or fenugreek-rubbed cod. We prepare a traditional Greek chestnut and baby onion stew, with warming aromatic spices, usually served as a main but also the perfect veggie side dish for a roast. Throughout the day, we’ll have roasted chestnuts on the fire with a couple of glasses of Metaxa while chatting and playing games.

Thai salad and laab-style stuffing

Saiphin Moore, co-owner Rosa’s Thai Cafe, nationwide
On Christmas Day, I have tea and then I’m in the kitchen by 7am, preparing the turkey and peeling vegetables. I make two stuffings, one traditional and one in laab-style balls, and two gravies, one traditional and one with chilli powder. For me, everything has to have a punchy flavour. In the evening, I use the leftover turkey to make a light Thai salad. Sometimes my daughter will help with dessert: we have Christmas pudding and light the whisky on top. Every Sunday is like Christmas for me: we always have a big family meal.


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Feel the heat ... pepperpot. Photograph: Alexander Mychko/Alamy

David Carter, chef and founder of Smokestak, London
I’m from the Caribbean and at Christmas we do have the classics – turkey, ham and so forth – but also a dish called pepperpot. It’s a meat stew and the recipe goes back to when there was no refrigeration: you leave it in a clay pot and boil it for an hour every day. One of the ingredients is cassareep, which comes from the cassava root and acts as a preservative. It also contains cloves, cinnamon, and star anise – it’s a very warming dish, quite unique. My mum would not have a Christmas without pepperpot – and she does it so well that I never touch it. Like any good stew, it’s always better the day after.

Rotisserie-style salmon

Turbot on an outdoor grill
Turbot charged ... enough fish for many mouths. Photograph: Nuno Monteiro/Alamy

Rick Toogood, co-founder and chef at Prawn on the Lawn, London and Padstow
We always have fish on Christmas Eve and I tend to be a bit more bossy about the cooking than I am on Christmas Day. My parents have an outdoor wood oven/barbecue, so we usually use that to cook a large fish, like a massive turbot or brill, which will feed 12-16 people. We’ve also done a rotisserie-style salmon. There’s smoked salmon, mackerel paté, prawns with different dips, baked oysters … On Christmas Day, my mum and I cook a classic Christmas spread – there’s always tons of food and the meal goes on for five or six hours.

Brussel tops and celeriac mash

James Lowe, chef and founder of Lyle’s, London
I tend to visit relatives over three or four days at Christmas – but I don’t want to eat the same foods three or four days in a row, so I cook something on Christmas Day that I can turn into something to take to my aunt’s on Boxing Day. I did turkey once but never again – it’s a big faff. Goose is really nice – the proportions are better than on a turkey. I take the legs off, roast the crown and braise the legs, and put them with chicken stock, prunes, bacon and cook in a casserole dish. I only ever do one or two carbs and a green vegetable – brussel tops and celeriac mash are favourites. The next day, I take all the leftovers and make it into a pie mix with a puff pastry lid.

Turkey sandwiches

Matthew Ryle, head chef at Maison François, London
Christmas lunch is my job and it’s a fairly standard affair: turkey (brined overnight) wrapped in lots of streaky bacon, pigs in blankets, stuffing (always Paxo sage and onion), cauliflower cheese, duck-fat potatoes, roasted brussels with chestnuts and bacon, braised red cabbage, carrots, Yorkshire puddings, gravy, bread sauce and cranberry sauce. Then there’s a load of cheese that is picked at for the remainder of the day. Later on, the turkey sandwiches are handed out: white crusty loaf, plenty of butter, cut into little squares – my nan makes them best.

Candied figs and Jerusalem artichokes

Paul Wedgwood, chef at Wedgwood the Restaurant, Edinburgh
We usually start the day with fruit, followed by something light, like a salad, for lunch. Then we go all out for Christmas dinner – it’s always been an evening meal in my family. This year, I’ve cured some grouse to make ham, which I’m serving with celeriac remoulade, candied figs and pickled blackberries. Also Jerusalem artichokes – I can’t get enough of them, I would eat them with everything. Then the showstopper is an ultra-free-range goose, served with all the trimmings. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth so, afterwards, I prefer to have a very good cheese board to nibble at while watching a movie.

Barbecued lobster

Charlie Carroll, founder of Flat Iron, London
I always barbecue at Christmas; glass of fizz, silly hat and a fire – magic. I usually choose a joint of beef taken from our own herd of cattle up in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, cooked whole over charcoal and wood embers. I might add a couple of lobsters from Pesky; they get them straight from a day boat in the fishing village of Beer in Devon, and they arrive by post 24 hours after they come out of the water. Amazing ingredients, sourced with care and cooked without too much fuss.

Prawn cocktail and After Eights

After Eight mints
Square habit? After Eight mints. Photograph: Selwyn/Alamy

Peter Sanchez-Iglesias, head chef at Decimo, London, and owner of Casamia and Paco Tapas, Bristol
The build-up to Christmas in our restaurants is so busy that the last thing I want to do is cook on Christmas Day. Another family member always takes the role so I can put my feet up, but our Christmas dinner is as traditional as it gets: roast turkey and all the trimmings. A classic prawn cocktail starter on Christmas Day is also a must. I love to tuck into a box of After Eights in the evening.

Chicken broth soup and tiramisu

broth with ravioli.
Italian soul soup ... chicken broth with ravioli. Photograph: Vitalii Kholmohorov/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Francesca Strange, founder and baker at The Proof, London
We start Christmas morning with a glass of champagne and then cut the pandoro cake that my mum gets sent from Italy. We graze on canapes during the day then have our main meal mid-afternoon. It’s quite traditional, but we do always have a chicken broth soup with ravioli – something my Italian nana used to make on Christmas Day. When I was 16, I was diagnosed with a nut allergy, but my mum would always forget, so now I’m in charge of dessert to guarantee I actually get some. We always have Christmas pudding, tiramisu and panettone bread and butter pudding, but in the past I’ve also made parfaits and chocolate fondants and ice-cream.

Watermelon and sour cherry rice

watermelon segments for an Iranian Shab-e Yalda feast.
Longest night ... an Iranian Shab-e Yalda feast. Photograph: Jasmin Merdan/Getty Images

Marwa Alkhalaf, chef director at Nutshell, London
Iranians have a night called Shab-e Yalda, which is the longest night of the year and usually falls on 21 December, so we tend to combine it with Christmas. We eat watermelon, pomegranate, nuts and dried fruits to start, followed by an Iranian twist on roast turkey – the stuffing is made with sauteed onion, garlic, walnuts, prunes, dates, apricots and golden plums, clementine juice and herbs. I love it served with sour cherry rice – it reminds me of cranberry sauce. Iranians eat quite biscuity desserts, and we usually have almond cookies at Christmas, served with tea.